Mad IS Hell

03a-angry-little-girl

(Image retrieved from http://sp.meucantinho.org/pictures-of/faces/angry/angry-faces-avatars.htm on 8/21/17.  Happy Eclipse Day, everyone!  Here’s a little gal who didn’t get to see the eclipse!)

Please read Matthew 5:21-26 in your Bible.  I mostly used the NIV for my research.  After paroxysms of hate that convulsed in Virginia and its aftermath throughout the world, I don’t think any explanation of WHY we need to study anger management would be required.

Jesus taught that anger can be murder on relationships.

Context (What’s going on in Matthew?)

This is the first of a series of six teachings Jesus introduces with the words “YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID” or some variation on that.  His purpose was to contrast the Old Covenant or agreement between God and humanity with the New Covenant He brought into being.  The New is, in each of these six cases, better than the old.  In this case, the New Covenant went beyond a mere legalism about murder to address the root cause: anger.  Jesus definitely raised the ethical standard.

Comment (What’s going on in these verses?)

  1. Anger is a dangerous emotion (vs. 21-22).

Our ethics of anger begins with affirming the sacredness of human life.  Jesus began this section by reminding them what the Old Covenant demanded – “YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID…‘YOU SHALL NOT MURDER’” (v. 21).

The word MURDER does not refer to all killing, but only to the taking of a life that is not first commanded by God.  Remember we’re talking about the Old Testament (OT) here.  In the OT, God occasionally called for wicked people to be killed.  Since God is perfect in His knowledge and judgment, we can trust that He only called for the death of those who were actually guilty and deserving.  No exceptions.

Remember also that human life is sacred to us because God said so.  We are under His commands in all things, including the taking and preserving of human life.  Because we have only lived under the New Covenant, we can be uncomfortable about Bible passages where God commands killing.  We have to remind ourselves that God commanded different things to His people under different covenants and get over it.

The phrase SUBJECT TO JUDGMENT refers to the penalty for murder as required by the Law: death by stoning.  For example:

– Genesis 9:6 ESV = Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

– Exodus 20:13 ESV = You shall not murder.

– Numbers 35:30-31 ESV = If anyone kills a person, the murder-er shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of 1 witness. You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death.

Jesus then contrasted the old standard with the new: “BUT I TELL YOU THAT ANYONE WHO IS ANGRY…WILL BE SUBJECT TO JUDGMENT.”  MURDER is still a sin under the New Covenant, but the change is that anger is now understood to be just as much a sin.  We find it easy to condemn murder because we’re so rarely guilty of it.  But we are routinely guilty of getting angry and so that hits closer to home.

Because human life is sacred, anger is as serious a sin as murder (v. 22).  The sacredness of human life is a principle fundamental to all civilization.  Every nation and religion must begin here.  Building on that, Christians are guided by a secondary principle called “the preciousness of others.”

– God says all life as precious because it is His.

– All life should be taken only with the most serious and righteous reasons.

– But human life is especially precious for these reasons: of all the created beings, only humans were created in the image and likeness of God.  Only human beings were given dominion over creation.

When we observe these two principles, it is easy to see that hatred is as violent and as ungodly an act as murder.  In fact, MURDER is most often motivated by anger, isn’t it?

Jesus explained that God’s new ethic was of a higher standard by reminding His listeners of current ethical practices (v. 22).

Firstly, when someone called someone else RACA, they risked the penalty of the court.  This word meant “empty” and was considered an expression of contempt.  (This may be a similar usage to our referring to an unemotional or inhumane person representing a corporation or bureaucracy as an “empty suit.”)  It was considered an example of a slip of the tongue, something said in the heat of the moment, but not really meant to harm the person’s feelings or reputation.  The worst discipline they might experience is the embarrassment of a rebuke from the Sanhedrin, their religious court.

Secondly but worse, to call someone a FOOL put one in danger of hell-fire.  The Jews considered this a more serious offense, a deliberate attempt to hurt the other person’s feelings and/or reputation.  Instead of the court, this kind of angry act put the person directly under God’s condemnation with the much more serious consequence of being destroyed in hell-fire.  Giving vent to anger in this way assumes the offender is an unbeliever and still under the wrath of God.  That was the way Jewish theology trended.

Rather than split hairs in this way, Jesus simply condemned all angry acts, teaching they are just as ethically serious as murderous acts.  As reluctant as we are to commit murder, we ought to be equally reluctant to do anything motivated by anger.

  1. Conflicts need to be resolved as peaceably and as quickly as possible (vs. 23-26).

To impart a sense of urgency, Jesus gave two examples: worship and litigation.

WORSHIP (23-24).

Relationships are so important to God that He would rather have you interrupt your worship than leave it unresolved!  THINK ABOUT IT!  In this one instance, even your most important relationship – your relation-ship with God – will take a back seat to getting that angry conflict resolved.

There are two reasons for this.  One, no one can legitimately worship God while hating their brother. (See 1 John 3:11-15.)  Two, nursed grudges and/or a bevy of burned bridges betrays a lack of true faith.

LITIGATION (25-26).

The practicality of Jesus’ advice to SETTLE MATTERS QUICKLY ought to be obvious enough for all of us.  Jesus offered a sensible reason if an ethical reason hadn’t been good enough: it’s cheaper and easier to settle out of court than it is to battle it out in court and potentially LOSE.  Would you rather put your trust in man’s law or God’s grace?  If you are a believer, grace is always better.  In choosing grace over law, all parties may have to give up their “rights” and forgive the “slights” they’ve suffered in order to compromise, exchange forgiveness, and move forward.  The way of Jesus is the way of grace triumphing over the law.  This is just as true in relational matters, in conflict resolution, as it is in any other area of life.

This is not found in the text, but please indulge me in a personal theory.  Here is another practical reason for resolution: unresolved conflicts are the leading cause of emotional dysfunction.  If we want victory over depression, to manage our anger, or overcome a host of challenging mental and/or emotional conditions; resolving longstanding conflicts is a good place to begin.

How to attempt quick and peaceable resolution?  Here’s one method.

1) FIRST, stop what you’re doing and make reconciliation a priority.  Approach it with a loving heart and a gracious spirit, aimed at reconciliation.  (Motives that have anything to do with “getting even” or “teaching them a lesson” are doomed to fail.)

2) SECOND, plan the context of the reconciliation attempt.  Choose a date, time and place that is agreeable to both parties and will be free of distractions.  That includes allowing for plenty of time.  A personal, face-to-face is the standard unless that’s plainly impossible or majorly inconvenient.

3) THIRD, declare in plain language your intention to reconcile.  Saying out loud and meaning it are necessary.

4) FOURTH, state the other person’s position and feelings.  Correct each other gently and compromise until you arrive at a mutually understood and accepted definition of the problem.

5) FIFTH, give and receive forgiveness for the wrongs mutually recognized in the previous step.

6) SIXTH, compromise on a way to avoid this kind of misunderstanding in the future and provide ways to avoid giving this offense(s) again.  This should include ways to respectfully approach one another to voice future concerns.

7) SEVENTH, extend and receive forbearance, which is “forgiving in advance.”  Realize that as much as you are working to avoid it, future offenses are going to be made.  Everyone should stop taking themselves so seriously and forgive in advance.  Commit yourself to forget the past offense in a way that will not require you to suffer it again in the future.

There are as many ways to resolve conflicts as there are “experts” who write about conflict resolution.  What I’ve shared with you is a summary of what I’ve seen and learned and used in my life and ministry.

The method is not important.  What is important is that we move to resolve our differences in a way that relieves us of anger.  We talk about being as “mad as hell.”  Jesus taught that being mad IS hell; it is a sin that finds its origin in Satan and, if unresolved, may find its conclusion in him as well.

We show we take the sin of anger seriously when we act to resolve conflict situations.  We show we are followers of Jesus when we choose love and grace over anger and law.

Our Orders are Simple

Please read Matthew 22:34-40 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

label

(Retrieved from http://www.awesomeinventions.com/funny-product-instructions/ on 8/14/17.)

Here are some actual label instructions on consumer goods.  I find myself wondering how anyone thought these were necessary or wise.

On a bag of chips:
You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.

On packaging for an iron:
Do not iron clothes on body.

On children’s cough medicine:
Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication.

On most brands of Christmas lights:
For indoor or outdoor use only.

On a child’s Superman costume:
Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.

On shin pads for cyclists:
Shin guards cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.

A parking lot sign:
Entrance only. Do not enter.

Rules on a elevated train track:
Beware! To touch these wires is instant death. Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted.

On a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle:
Some assembly required.

On a can of pepper spray used for self defense:
May irritate eyes.

On a TV remote:
Not Dishwasher safe.

On a mattress:
Do not attempt to swallow.

<Retrieved from http://funnytab.net/doomed on 8/10/17.>

Is it possible modern life is just too complicated?  Is it possible that common sense has become so uncommon we really do need these kinds of warnings?

For all our sakes, I want to take a few moments to take a look at Jesus’ version of a “life hack;” the way He simplified the commands of God.  Ten Commandments?  Still too many.  He got the whole matter down to TWO.  Just two commands to keep, and those who do reveal themselves to be His disciples.  This morning we’ll take a brief look at what these commands are and how they serve as our operating instructions for LIFE.

First, let’s note these commands are part of Jesus’ response to a misleading question (vs. 34-36).

Jesus is days from being killed.  He is in the city of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish faith, having entered it with a very public parade and a equally public confrontation in the temple. The religious authorities hate Him and He has racheted up the pressure with these tactics, forcing their hand, so they are trying to find something they can use to discredit Him in the eyes of the people.

Matthew 22 records a series of four encounters where these religious leaders tried to trap Jesus in His words.  Our passage is the third of the four.  In this case, they want to draw Jesus into a long-standing argument about which of God’s commands was the most important.  As this was something godly people had debated for years, they were hoping that Jesus would take a stand that would alienate at least half His listeners, as His answer would not agree with theirs.  They probably didn’t care what Jesus’ answer was, they just wanted him to say something they could use to irritate a percentage of His followers.

Their question was posed by a LAWYER and theologian in one (AN EXPERT IN THE LAW) – need I say any more?  While a theological question like this may sound innocent to our ears, these people lived in an entirely different culture.  In our culture, questions of Bible interpretation have not been a deciding factor in mainstream policy decisions since the Civil War.  But in this culture, these questions had a great influence on all parts of life.  The way a person answered this question guided economic, political, and moral decisions.

Second, let’s see what Jesus’ answer reveals about following God (vs. 37-40).

It reveals something about our priorities.

Jesus said THE FIRST AND GREATEST COMMANDMENT is to love God.  God comes first because of who He is; as our Creator and Savior, He is the most deserving object of our love. God comes first because He is the highest good.  We help others and ourselves more when His love is the foundation of our attitudes and actions.  God comes first because He shows us by Jesus’ example what love is.

He also said the second most important command is to love our NEIGHBOR as we love ourselves.  Love for NEIGHBOR takes priority over love for self but does not eliminate it.  We are to be unselfish but we are not called to be anyone’s doormat.  Love for self is included.  Hatred of self leads to all kinds of disabilities and problems.  Yes, the Bible calls us to self-denial and self-control, but that’s to eliminate selfishness, not self-preservation or self-love.

The point is, we can’t really love God or anybody else without loving ourselves too.  It’s a matter of keeping our priorities in proper order.  There is a place for self-love and it is third place.

Life gets messed up and we fall into sin when we get these priorities out of order. Too often, we have it exactly backwards; we put self first, then others, then God – if we think about Him at all.

Jesus’ teaching reveals something about the nature of love.  Our LOVE is to be all-encompassing; WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. Our most common mistake is we love with only part of who we are.  We think it’s OK to give our SOUL to Jesus, but we want to reserve our MIND for science, and our HEART for worldly things we enjoy.  The Bible repeatedly tells us that a partial commitment is really no commitment at all.  Love is not real until it involves all of who we are; no reservations.

LOVE is also “all-encompassing” in the sense that is the motive for all good actions.  This is what Jesus meant when He said in v. 40, “ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS HANG ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS.”  Or, to put it another way, “Love is the heart of what God wants from us.  The rest of the Bible is commentary on how to love.”

Our LOVE for each other is shown by taking care of others like we care for self.  Few of us are completely selfish; most of us care to some degree about the welfare and opinions of others.  (Completely selfish people might be called “sociopaths.”  Experts tell us only 1% of the population are currently in that fix.)  Though some of us take better care of ourselves than others, most of us do what we can to be healthy and happy.  Jesus is telling us that’s a rough guide on how to love others.

This is Jesus restating the Golden Rule; “Do to others what you want others to do for you.”  He is telling us the standard of care for our neighbor is the kind of care we normally require for ourselves.  We are to stop being selfish and treat others with the same care and respect we’d treat ourselves.

From Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37) we understand Jesus defined “neighbor” as everyone nearby and in need.  In short, our “neighbor” is everyone else.

There’s an enormous amount of biblical material on this subject, but for our purposes, we can characterize the nature of love by the objects of our love.

Love for God is obedience.

Love for each other is unselfish service.

Let’s Stick with God’s Simplified Instructions

“A preacher was speaking about all the things money can’t buy. ‘Money can’t buy happiness, it can’t buy laughter and money can’t buy love’ he told the congregation.

Driving his point home he said, ‘What would you do if I offered you $1,000 not to love your mother and father?’

“A hush fell over the congregation. Finally a small voice near the front, raised an important question, ‘How much would you give me not to love my big sister?’”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-great-commandment-steve-greene-sermon-on-christian-love-87624 on 8/11/17.>

There you go.  Even with good intentions, the preacher complicated this matter of who to love and how to love.

God is so good to us.  In this passage, Jesus made love as simple and as accessible as possible.  Why complicate anything in this life, but especially something as essential as love?

The answer to that question is, of course, that when complicate something we most often have some ulterior motive: we have something to sell or something to hide.  We’re trying to fool ourselves or somebody else.

This kind of love is not just words or sentiment, it is words and sentiment manifest in action.  It is making a sacrifice in order to meet a need, be a friend, redeem our time.  The kinds of sacrifices love may require include:

Time,

Money,

Getting outside our comfort zone,

Forgiving,

Associating with unlovable people,

Changing,

Being inconvenienced.

What we get in return is greater than our sacrifice.  God loves a lover.  Be that lover.

Which D.Q. for You?

Please read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Once in a while a fictional story draws an exceptionally accurate picture of life and you’re pleasantly surprised to learn something and be entertained.  I had that experience recently reading James S.A. Corey’s book Babylon’s Ashes.  Early in the novel he wrote,

“All through human history, being a moral person and not being pulled into the dramatics and misbehavior of others has caused intelligent people grief.” (p. 88)

The rest of the story went on to prove this point.

Lesson learned: the “dramatics and misbehavior of others” can lead us into grief just as much as our own “dramatics and misbehavior.”  My opinion is that life inflicts enough drama, we don’t need to go around creating more for ourselves or others.

I’d better explain this message’s title.  When we think about ice cream, many of us think about “D.Q.” or “Dairy Queen.”  I saw a t-shirt once that co-opted the Dairy Queen logo but used the letters to refer to “Drama Queen!”

DQ

So my question is, which kind of D.Q. do you prefer?  One’s sweet, the other is sour.  Be careful how you answer, lest your life disprove what you claim.

In spite of the feminine noun, a drama queen is anyone – male or female – who acts in an overly-emotional way.  They habitually blow things out of proportion, brewing a “tempest in a teapot.”

The very best demonstration of a drama queen is a Dutch TV commercial made about seven years ago.  It begins with mom driving her daughter to school.  Maybe the little girl is moping because she doesn’t want to go to school that day.

A policeman’s lights and siren interrupted the mother’s lecture why the she must go to school.  After she pulled over, the policeman said she was speeding and instructed the mom to get out her license and registration.

As mom pokes through her purse, the policeman notices the girl in the back seat and says, “Mom is in a hurry today, isn’t she?”

The somber little girl quietly replied, “She’s not my mother,” and held up a note she scribbled on her pad of paper which read “HELP!”

drama queen

That is a drama queen.  Regardless of their motivation, drama queens cause a lot of problems at home, work, and church.  They leave behind them a lot of burned bridges and create an area of negativity all around them as they careen through life, feeding on the unhappiness they cause.

Not surprisingly, God does not want us to be a drama queen.  Instead, He calls us to a QUIET LIFE.  We will see this morning God’s way to building healthy relationships.

First, let’s note the context of this passage: Paul explained every disciple’s primary ambition is to please God.  He Paul offered three steps to achieve this ambition.

First Step = Remember your INSTRUCTIONS (1+2).

INSTRUCTIONS in this case being the commands of Jesus Christ to love God first, others second, self last.  This is part of the Gospel that Paul had given them, the foundation of their church and life in Christ.  As there is always room for improvement, he urged them to follow those INSTRUCTIONS MORE AND MORE.

Second Step: Love God by being holy (3-8).

In people and objects, holiness means to be set apart to God, exclusively working to fulfill His purpose.  In people, holiness also means moral purity.  That’s why Paul urged them to practice self-control.  Disciples of Jesus are distinguished from the world by their HOLY and HONORABLE behavior.

Third Step = Love others by avoiding drama (9-12).

God teaches His children how to LOVE EACH OTHER (9-10).  Paul encourages them first, congratulating them on their love.  The love these church folk had for one another was known throughout MACEDONIA.

Though he didn’t NEED to write them about their love, as any good teacher would, that’s exactly what Paul did.  For, just as he said in v. 1, Paul repeated in v. 10, to love MORE AND MORE.  I know we can get tired of hearing that; the call to improvement can become exhausting and discouraging.  But, as Paul observed in v. 8, God gives us HIS HOLY SPIRIT, so we get the power to love from Him; we don’t rely on our own strength.

God keeps calling us to growth in Christ, to become MORE AND MORE like Him.  One benefit of making this our priority is that we keep praying, keep relying on God, keep turning back to Him for strengthening.  Besides, this is the definition of ambition, isn’t it?  Ambitious people never quit, are never satisfied, and are always looking to do more or better?

God’s children enact love in their ambition to LEAD A QUIET LIFE (11-12).  It sounds strange to combine the words AMBITION and QUIET, doesn’t it?  Most of us experience ambitious people as loud or bossy, drawing attention to their self.  How do these words work together?

In general, A QUIET LIFE means an end to “drama.”  Life creates enough drama to satisfy a reasonable person.  It makes no sense to go around creating more strained relationships and negative emotions.  Godly people seek a QUIET LIFE to please God and find out that it is also pleasing to others and themselves.

Paul offers two specifics of what a QUIET LIFE involves.  One, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.  Being a “busybody” is identified in the Bible as a sin.  A busybody is not someone with a high energy level or a hard worker; this is someone who involves themselves in other people’s lives without permission.  No matter how we may rationalize it, offering unsolicited advice or comments of any kind is to be guilty of the sin of being a busybody.  God has identified this as a sin because busybodies have a negative effect on relationships and organizations.  Their intrusive and negative spirit makes everyone nervous around them and discourages creativity and/or risk-taking; all behaviors that might be good and necessary but are contrary to the busybody’s sense of the way things should be.

Two, WORK WITH YOUR HANDS.  One cure for busybodies is for them to MIND their OWN BUSINESS, as we’ve seen.  Another cure is to WORK WITH their HANDS because busybodies tend to be idle people.  This must’ve really been a problem in Thessalonica, because Paul addressed this issue again in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12:

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.

I’ve heard church folk eagerly cite this verse as evidence against government welfare programs and flatly ignore the gossip and complaining they do as busybodies.  WORK WITH YOUR HANDS is a figure of speech for “honest labor.”  This is a cure for busybodies because instead of wasting their time and energy on negative incursions into other people’s business, they fruitfully expend themselves on doing good.

Working together is good for a church.  The old maxim is still true: “Votes divide, service unites.”  Churches that work together build up their unity.  Honest work is a way we can serve God and others and it prohibits us making convenient but sinful distinctions between our “work life” and “church life.”  That’s hypocrisy, bud.

There are two aims with respect to the QUIET LIFE, two good reasons to make it our AMBITION.  One, to WIN THE RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS.  A frequently-used excuse for not being involved in church is that churches are “full of hypocrites.”  There are snappy comebacks and reasonable responses to this excuse, but the most convincing reply is church folk earning the RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS by NOT being hypocrites.

We WIN RESPECT by having integrity; not just making claims of godliness, but by living in godliness.  Some people call this a “Silent Witness” or “Lifestyle Evangelism,” but to Paul, these were simply ways that all disciples were to live.  It is an important benefit to Christ-like living.

Two, to NOT BE DEPENDENT ON ANYBODY.  A secondary benefit to working with one’s hands is independence.  If you can provide for yourself, do so.  If you can’t, then don’t.   Being independent is not getting your own way as it is earning your own way.  Dependency has some negative social effects and God gave Paul the wisdom to see that capable people should be independent as long as they are capable.

This is Paul being practical but also Paul dealing with the culture of the Greek world of that time.  Greeks thought of physical labor as demeaning, while Jews had a strong work ethic they’d received from God.  Paul did not just teach this, he lived it.  Earlier in this letter he wrote;

Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.               (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

Laziness might be described as a lack of ambition.  So we understand two problems related to ambition in this passage.  Ambition for anything outside of God’s will is sin.  A lack of ambition is also sin.

God’s people are to behave in ways that are clearly more moral than people who are stuck on themselves, or in the world.  This passage is one of many in the Bible that sets God’s standard before us and then calls us to live accordingly.

This means deposing drama queens.  It means having as a goal for self first, then at home, in church, and in the community, a practice of life that drains the drama.  Here are some simple suggestions as to how you can do that.  I call them “Bumper Sticker Proverbs;” short, sweet, and hopefully, memorable.

#1 –No criticisms without compliments.  If you must complain or criticize, do not do so without making a genuine compliment before or after.

#2 – No advice without permission.  Unsolicited advice is detrimental to every kind of relationship in every context.  Ask first, and respect a “no” reply.

#3 – Nip negativity, push positivity.  Even if this requires a personality makeover, the peace achieved through positivity makes it worth all effort.

#4 – Pray before you say.  Ask God to set a guard at your lips and take away whatever is hurtful.

#5 – Tone down the teasing.  This is my worst thing.  A little bit goes a long way, even if the teasing is directed at yourself.  Humor with a cutting edge is a drama queen’s tool.

#6 – Follow your guide.  Asking yourself if your reaction is something Jesus would do is a handy way to both slow down our reaction time and eliminate sinful reactions.  Follow His example in word and deed.

#7 – Get in your time machine.  Before you react in any way, take a moment to imagine how important this matter will be in a year or 10 years.  A bigger perspective helps us avoid pettiness.

Strategies for Last Days Living

Please read 2 Peter 3:11-18 in your Bible.  I used the NIV for my research, but there is no compulsory choice.

As if he’d received a diagnosis of terminal cancer, the Apostle Peter dealt with the question, “How would I live if I knew today were my last day?”  In our time, people have answered this question by writing “Bucket Lists.”  It’s become so common we all know that a “Bucket List” is the things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.”

There’s even a website where members can explore over SIX MILLION ideas of things to add to their Bucket List.  You can not only get ideas there, but you can share your own Bucket List items and your experiences crossing them off.

Have you seen the TV commercial where they guy is driving his elderly dog all over, crossing items off the dog’s Bucket List?  Do you remember the product they were selling?  HINT: a dog can’t use it.

Notice that most of the items that make Bucket Lists are possessing worldly items or doing things that excite or please the flesh.  Many are taking advantage of the fact that you won’t be held responsible for some mean-spirited or illegal acts.

How many Bucket Lists have you seen that include something like GROW IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST?  How about you?  If it became clear your time was drawing to an end, would this make your Bucket List?  Would it be a priority?

REVIEW (See the previous two posts.)

  1. We are called to be Saints among Scoffers (3:1-7).
  2. God’s timing is not your timing (3:8-10).

NEW

  1. Last Days Living (3:11-18).

Number One Last days Living Strategy = Live like it matters (vs. 11-13).  Knowing that this reality will end in fire could just as easily become Nihilism or some other excuse for ungodliness, saying, “The end is near and clear, so it doesn’t matter what I do.”

Peter wants to deny the SCOFFERS this excuse by asking the pertinent question: “Since the end is coming some day, how should we live today?” (11)  And then he immediately answers it; “We should live HOLY AND GODLY LIVES.”

The word HOLY describes a spiritual condition.  It means that my existence is set apart to God.  I no longer live for myself, but for God’s will.  The word GODLY describes a moral condition.  It means that with God’s help I am going to do the right thing with all the days given me.

Peter gave two good reasons for living HOLY AND GODLY LIVES in v. 12.  Firstly, AS YOU LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY OF GOD. The Second Coming of Jesus is an event only His followers will anticipate with relish, because it is the day on which all the promises of God are realized, our faith is vindicated, and we go to our eternal home in new bodies, heavenly versions of our bodies.  Verse thirteen elaborates on this PROMISE God, adding that we have a new HOME to which we can look forward.  It is nothing less than a new reality (a NEW HEAVEN AND EARTH).  It is a place characterized by RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Secondly, in the phrase AND SPEED ITS COMING.  He didn’t need to, but God has chosen to partner with us in bringing about the DAY OF GOD!  We learned last Sunday that the Second Coming was being held back to give everyone every opportunity to repent and be saved.  As you and I participate with God in helping people come to faith, then we move God’s timetable ahead if the people who are going to be saved are saved sooner.  If anyone who claims to follow Christ but has never had the experience of leading someone to Christ, then they have not participated in speeding the Day of the Lord and need to be serious about their claim.

Number Two Last Days Living Strategy = Live blamelessly and biblically (vs. 14-16).  The phrase SO THEN in v. 14 might be paraphrased, “Now that you’re properly motivated, here’s where your part comes in.”  What will be true of people who are headed for heaven is their daily choice to MAKE EVERY EFFORT to live the HOLY AND GODLY LIVES mentioned in verse eleven.

Heaven-bound believers will MAKE EVERY EFFORT to live that way beyond all accusations of falsehood or hypocrisy.  Peter describes this EFFORT in terms of the EFFORT put into our relationships.

SPOTLESS and BLAMELESS refer to our relationships with one another.  We want our moral and spiritual life to give evidence that our claims of faith are true and give form to our witness to those who’ve not yet believed.

AT PEACE WITH HIM refers to our relationship with God, that we have accepted His gift of salvation and been forgiven our sins.

Verse fifteen reminds us of what we learned earlier; the “delay” of the Second Coming is a demonstration of God’s PATIENCE.  As we are the beneficiaries of God’s PATIENCE, it is fitting that we patiently await the fulfillment of all God’s promises.

In verses fifteen and sixteen, Peter supports this teaching by referencing the writings of his fellow Apostle, Paul, noting how the two of them were in agreement on this issue.  This is interesting, because Peter and Paul weren’t always on the same side of issues and Peter had to bear Paul’s rebuke at least once.  What Peter does in these verses is also important because it is Scripture verifying itself as the word of God, His revelation to us in written form.

Peter wants to protect the truth, especially the truth about the Second Coming, from the SCOFFERS.  One way he goes about that is to say, “Paul’s had to deal with his own scoffers and we are both in agreement about this teaching concerning the Second Coming to refute their false teaching that it’s not going to happen or has already happened.”

Number Three Last Days Living Strategy = Live guardedly, growing in Christ (vs. 17+18).  The word THEREFORE warns us that a summary and/or application of the previous teaching is about to occur.  In this case, we’ve been served notice: a WARNING has been given.  Peter warned his readers that this reality and all the people who have – by rejecting God – declared their allegiance to it, will be destroyed by fire.

Part of what makes this teaching so crucial is that it is a warning we all need to hear repeatedly.  Unbelieving people need to hear it so they will repent and be saved.  Believers need to hear it to renew our commitment to follow Jesus in the days we have left.

Peter’s warning is to the people in the church, as indicated by his salutation – DEAR FRIENDS – in verse fourteen.  That church people can be believers and unbelievers may come as a shock to some.  As much as we try to honor the doctrine of regenerate church membership, experience, reason, and Scripture combine to demonstrate that every local church has some degenerate members.

First, he warned the unbelieving church folk (the degenerates) that they need to be on GUARD lest the false teaching of the SCOFFERS cause them to fall away from what otherwise looked like a SECURE POSITION.

Second, he warned the believing church folk (the regenerates) to confirm their true standing in Christ by GROWING IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.  Science teaches that growth is part of the definition of life; things that are alive grow.  Peter sets forth two signs that we can use to judge whether we are alive in Christ or just faking it.

First, the phrase GROWING IN GRACE means that the temperament and character of a true disciple will be in the process of becoming more like Jesus.  We need to acknowledge that aging and maturing are two different things.  In fact, it may be observed that the majority of people “freeze” at a point of maturity and though they continue to age, they do not mature.

Second, the phrase GROWING IN KNOWLEDGE means that a true disciple is always a learner, always humble about what they know.  Humble people know in their hearts and say aloud that the more they learn, the more they realize they have more to learn.  Humble people acknowledge the biggest “room” in their home is “room for improvement.”

So believers and unbelievers are both being warned, but to different ends.  Peter is NOT warning the believers that they can forfeit their salvation.  Instead, he is giving church folk (both believers and unbelievers) a warning that simply claiming faith is not enough.  A genuine faith is not merely assumed or claimed; it is proven by how we live in these LAST DAYS.  Since God already knows our hearts, we are proving our faith to ourselves and others by the maturing of our character into Christ-likeness.

Believers are NOT given this warning to undermine our confidence in our salvation, but to give us signs we can see on our own, to verify our confidence.  This warning was given to humble us and cast us back on the grace of God and stand on that alone.  In this understanding Peter was again in agreement with Paul, who wrote; SO IF YOU THINK YOU ARE STANDING FIRM, BE CAREFUL THAT YOU DON’T FALL! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Peter ends this letter giving GLORY to OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, which is the happy task of all His followers and the best use of our LAST DAYS on earth.

In his book, The Quest For Character, Charles Swindoll wrote about a little blue box held in the Library of Congress.  A label on the box reads: CONTENTS OF THE PRESIDENT’S POCKETS ON THE NIGHT OF APRIL 14, 1865.  Here’s what was in Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he died:

  • A handkerchief, embroidered “A. Lincoln.”
  • A country boy’s pen knife.
  • A spectacles case repaired with string.
  • A purse containing a $5 bill — in Confederate currency!
  • Some old and worn newspaper clippings.

The clippings were concerned with the great deeds of Abraham Lincoln. One of them reported a speech by John Bright which said Abraham Lincoln was “one of the greatest men of all times.”

John Bright was a British statesman who was quite right in his assessment of Lincoln, but in 1865 many others had a contrary opinion. The President had fierce critics.   It is touchingly pathetic to imagine this great leader seeking comfort from a few newspaper clippings.

<See https://bible.org/illustration/little-blue-box.&gt;

True believers will, like Lincoln, face adversity in this life.  God promised that following Him would be worth it, but He did not promise it would be easy.  Peter faced his SCOFFERS and Paul opposed false teachers in the churches he founded.  Without bowing to opposition or compromising to the world, the promises and the warnings will be held dear by those who are true.  It is worth it.

Timing IS Everything

Please read 2 Peter 3:8-10 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

In a message entitled “Timing is Everything” Rev. Bruce Goettsche wrote, “You have probably heard the phrase many times, ‘timing is everything’. There is a great deal of truth in that statement.

“The difference between a good joke and a bad one is a person’s sense of timing.  An appropriate pause makes a joke . . . an inappropriate pause can kill the same joke.

“Timing is essential when dealing with people. You don’t ask for a raise when business is not going well or when things are tense around the office. You don’t try to correct someone who feels threatened by you. You don’t ask for a favor when someone is under a lot of stress or angry.

“Timing is important in cooking.  The juicy hamburger on the grill is raw meat if cooked for too little time and a clump of charcoal if it is cooked too long.

“Timing is important in your spiritual life as well.  Jesus was very conscious of timing. He lived His life with an acute awareness of God’s timing for His life. The gospel of John records these words of Jesus,

  1. John 2:4 ‘My time has not yet come’
  2. John 7:6 ‘The right time for me has not yet come’
  3. John 7:30; 8:20 ‘His time had not yet come’

“Peter tells us that the second coming of the Christ is a matter of timing. God has not sent Christ back to earth yet because ‘he wants everyone to come to repentance’.  God is waiting until everyone who will come to Christ, does.”

REVIEW

  1. We are called to be Saints among Scoffers (3:1-7).

NEW

  1. God’s timing is not your timing (3:8-10).

God is eternal; we are stuck in the present (8).  This is one of Peter’s rebuttals of the SCOFFERS – a theological one – God relates to time differently than we do.  All discussions of timing – including the arrival of the Second Coming of Jesus – need to account for this.  Peter is referenced Psalms 90:4, which says, FOR A THOUSAND YEARS ARE LIKE A DAY THAT HAS GONE BY, OR LIKE A WATCH IN T NIGHT.

The word “eternal” does not mean an unlimited amount of time; it is not exactly a synonym for the word “forever.”  Instead, “eternal” means timeless.  God is eternal in that He transcends time; He is not affected by the passage of time nor limited to any one time.

In a sense, God is always in the present moment; He exists in all times simultaneously.  We say that God is present in all places simultaneously (“omnipresence”) and we can also say God is present at all times simultaneously (“omnitemporal…?”).

Back to verse eight.  Peter is saying, “These SCOFFERS who accuse God of being late don’t know God.  He is never late because he is always present.”  That’s why Peter urged his readers DO NOT FORGET this important truth.  Because God is who He is, no one can accuse Him of lateness.  So the gap between the promise of the Second Coming and its fulfillment cannot be explained as some failing in God or something lacking in our faith.  Peter offers the true explanation in verse nine.

God is patient; we want it done yesterday (9).  God is neither late nor slow; instead He is PATIENT.  God is neither unwilling nor unable; instead He is giving people opportunity to repent so the Second Coming will be a day of life, not death.  The fact that the Second Coming has not yet happened is not to be misinterpreted as the SCOFFERS have done (AS SOME UNDERSTAND SLOWNESS).  Instead, it is a demonstration of God’s patience. There is a lot of biblical evidence for the patience of God; see Exodus 34:6; Numbers 13:18; Psalm 86:15; Jeremiah 15:15; Romans 2:4; 9:22 as examples.

The reason God shows patience is bound up in His desire to see all people repent and be saved.  The will of God is made clear in this verse; God’s will is for all people to be saved.

However, God is not going to save anyone against their own will.  He has delegated authority to us in the form of free will.  We decide for ourselves whether or not we accept His gracious gift of salvation.  I explain it this way: Salvation is 99% God’s action and 1% our reaction.  However, our 1% is the deciding factor.  With our one percent we either accept God’s salvation in Jesus Christ and have eternal life or we reject it and suffer eternal death.

This means that God cannot be accused of sending anyone to hell; people send themselves by the choice they make.  If God had His way all of us would be saved.  But then that free will thing is toast.

The Lord is coming; the world is ending (10).  Peter issued two warnings to the SCOFFERS.  One, Jesus’ second appearing will be something they won’t see coming while in their present frame of mind: it will surprise them LIKE A THIEF in the night.  Two, it will have a deadly outcome where they are concerned; they will be destroyed with FIRE.

While the Second Coming is something we are to anticipate every day, when it happens it will be without any obvious warning.

We install locks and security systems to guard against thieves, but they don’t call ahead to schedule their appearance at our homes.  Similarly, the SCOFFERS will be surprised at Jesus’ sudden reappearance.  Their decision not to have faith will mean that they did not see this coming.  The expression AS A THIEF is one Peter borrowed from Jesus’ own teaching on this subject (see Luke 12:30, 41).

The phrase DAY OF THE LORD tells us that the Second Coming is a single event that unfolds a series of consequences.  For example, the DAY OF THE LORD is the same event as Judgment Day, as judgment being one of the reasons Jesus will reappear in this way.  Judgment Day is implied in the phrase EVERYTHING DONE IN IT WILL BE LAID BARE.

The other part of this that is hard for the SCOFFERS to wrap their heads around is that reality as we have known it will come to an end.  What is bound by time will be replaced with what is eternal.

THE HEAVENS WILL DISAPPEAR WITH A ROAR is another way of describing the suddenness with which the Second Coming will occur.  Both heaven and earth will come to an end on that day; Peter makes it clear everything will be destroyed by FIRE: THE ELEMENTS WILL BE DESTROYED BY FIRE.  THE ELEMENTS are what we call “atoms” and “molecules,” the basic building blocks of reality.

– In the Bible, FIRE is a symbol of three things.

One, it is a symbol of purification.  Like gold, which is purified by fire, our faith and moral nature are purified by trials and tests (see 1 Peter 1:7).

Two, as the Apostle Paul used it in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, FIRE is a symbol of judgment.  What is not of God does not survive the fire, revealing its true nature.  On Judgment Day, each person’s life will be LAID BARE, the truth of our decision exposed in the way we have lived our lives.  All that survives the fire will survive in the new, eternal heaven and earth.  What is burned up is destroyed.

Three, fire is a biblical symbol of destruction (see verse eleven).

In a message entitled, “Don’t Blame The Judge,” Tim Smith wrote, “God has done everything He possibly can to keep you out of Hell and still leave you as a person with free will. Some Christians argue otherwise that it is in fact God who sends people to hell. But when a criminal is sent to jail, we don’t blame the judge, do we? We blame the criminal. The judge isn’t responsible because he’s just following the law. It was the criminal who broke the law and that’s why they were sent to jail. Likewise, God is bound by who he is, a holy, loving, righteous and just God and by His decision to give us free will and then not violate it by keeping us from making bad decisions. So it’s not God who sends us to hell but our decisions and the repercussions that we must live with.”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-tim-smith-stories-hell-83766?ref=TextIllustrationSerps on 7/14/17.>

God’s timing is not ours.  Unless we step into Scripture and see things from God’s perspective, we see everything through this very limiting lens of time.  We must understand that things are NOT going to continue forever the way they have been.  Understanding this motivates us to appreciate the urgency of preparing today for an event that will happen tomorrow.  Preparation begins with deciding to accept God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Saints Among Scoffers

Please read 2 Peter 3:1-7 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

(This is the first in a series of five messages on 2 Peter 3.)

The upcoming Second Coming demands godly living now.

Starting with Jesus Himself, people of faith have endured the scorn of people who, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, think themselves so much smarter.  Let me offer as an example a few quotes from notorious scoffers and Bible quotes that answer their objections to the Christian faith.

            Author Gore Vidal stated, “Christianity is such a silly religion.”

1 Corinthians 1:18 = For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but unto us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Gore Vidal died in 2012, after a decade of decline in which he fell into alcoholism and dementia and had painful feuds with family members and friends.  Maybe his words aren’t so trustworthy after all.

            “Christians are losers.” — said Ted Turner, media magnate (Between this quote and CNN, Turner has a lot to answer for!)

In Matthew 16:25 we read Jesus’ words; “For whoever want to save their life will lose

it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (So we are “losers,” but what we gain in trade is so infinitely more valuable!)

            The French philosopher Voltaire stated plainly the task of opponents of Christianity: “If we would destroy the Christian religion, we must first of all destroy man’s belief i/t Bible.”

In response, the Bible teaches such a plan is doomed to failure.  In Matthew 24:35, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

Voltaire never married but lived as a husband to his niece until his death in 1778.  You could say the Church got the last laugh on Voltaire; he refused to recant and was refused a Christian burial.  However, some friends had him secretly buried in a rural church outside of Paris.

<Retrieved from http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/False%20Religions/Roman%20Catholicism/SS/scoffer.htm on 7/7/17.>

In all these examples, men who achieved worldly success thought they could do better than Christianity.  They were scoffers, more impressed with their big brains than anything else, vain rebels against God, whose truth goes marching on.

  1. We are called to be Saints among Scoffers (3:1-7).

Peter’s aim in writing two letters to them: STIMULATE WHOLESOME THINKING (1).  The Greek word for WHOLESOME meant “pure when examined by sunlight” or “sincere.”  In this case, the purity in question is theological; it is to have a correct under-standing of the truth.  It means to have a faith that is not compromised by worldly views or falsehood of any kind. This is the opposite of the SCOFFERS, who’re thoroughly compromised.

WHOLESOME THINKING meant to have a “pure disposition.”  It is a worldview informed by, and is in accord with, God’s revelation.

Peter attempted to achieve his objective by reminding them of God’s word (2).  Peter is not just sharing his opinion with them.  These WORDS have come from HOLY PROPHETS and from OUR LORD & SAVIOR THROUGH YOUR APOSTLES.

THE HOLY PROPHETS refers to the Old Testament prophets specifically and generally to all the books of the Old Testament that aren’t histories.

THE COMMAND GIVEN BY OUR LORD AND SAVIOR THROUGH YOUR APOSTLES refers specifically to His two commands to love and generally to all the actions and teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.  I love how Peter refers to himself and the others as YOUR Apostles.   They were put in authority to pass along the faith as they received it directly from Jesus.  Their testimony is verified by the fact that though 100s of years of history separated them, they spoke with one voice: the APOSTLES preserved what Jesus said and His teaching fulfilled what the PROPHETS predicted.

Further, this is the WORD that had been SPOKEN IN THE PAST.  It is not the latest trend, the popular notion, it is the faith as they had received it from the beginning.  In practice, this means that our faith is based on the word of God, the Bible.  At the beginning of our life of faith, it is especially important that our own beliefs be in accord with the traditions of the Church.  Finally, as we mature in faith, we apply experience and reason to Scripture and tradition to affirm a faith that is our own.

This is NOT to say that we are free to make it up.  That approach is too individualized and subjective to be trust-worthy.  A made-up faith is not true; it is not powerful to save us, nor is it powerful to help us overcome life’s challenges.  A made-up faith is easy prey for the world and our Enemy to corrupt.  It easily becomes a way to make excuses.  Instead of confronting our culture it capitulates to trendiness: “pop faith.”

“Saints” is a New Testament word that refers to all who truly believe and are thereby part of God’s family.  We are to be characterized by purity in thought and action.

Even more important (ABOVE ALL) than WHOLESOME THINKING, he needed to warn them that SCOFFERS would come, trying to confound their WHOLESOME THINKING (3-7).  This creates a couple questions.

One: when are the LAST DAYS (3)?  The LAST DAYS is the span of time between Jesus’ Ascension (when He went back to heaven) and His Second Coming.  All saints, including the New Testament writers, thought that Jesus would come again during their lifetime. The SCOFFERS have been quick to ridicule saints on this basis, as we see in v. 4.

Two: who are the SCOFFERS?  They are identified by their choices: FOLLOWING THEIR OWN EVIL DESIRES (3).  This is often what motivates people to make up their own faith or reject faith entirely; to justify doing what they please.  Remember, these are the SCOFFERS.  The word EVIL is more appropriate in their case because they actively promote falsehood.

They are also identified by their words.  (It’s a little amusing to read, SCOFFERS WILL COME SCOFFING.  What else would they do?)  They scoff at the notion that Jesus will come again.  They deny or sow seeds of doubt about Jesus’ Second Coming (4).  They ignore the facts of creation and history to replace the truth with their own narrative.  Instead of trusting God to reveal Himself accurately, they trust their own intellect, imagination, and/or experiences.

It’s essential to know the truth about the world as a guard against counterfeits.  First, we affirm that God is our Creator (5). It amazes me, for example, that people want to find “laws” of nature without acknowledging the Law-maker, God.

Second, we affirm that, as Creator, God has the right to do anything He wills with creation, including destroying His it.  The history the SCOFFERS are eager to ignore affirms that has already done so – on a limited scale – by means of flood waters (6).  Peter mentioned the world-wide flood to note the historical process:

Warning    =>     Scoffers    =>     World

Delivered            Appeared           Destroyed

This process is being repeated here in the LAST DAYS.

The prophecy the SCOFFERS are eager to ignore warns us He will destroy this creation – on an unlimited scale – by means of fire (7).  There are numerous Old Testament prophecies that connect FIRE and the DAY OF THE LORD (PSS 97:3; ISH 34:4; 66:15-16; DNL 7:9-10; MCH 1:4; JOL 2:30; ZPH 3:8; MCI 4:1).  So this is an example of connection between the PROPHETS and APOSTLES as mentioned earlier.

Peter warned THE PRESENT HEAVENS AND EARTH ARE RESERVED FOR JUDGMENT AND DESTRUCTION OF THE UNGODLY.  In other words, it’s going to happen, but God the Father alone knows when it will happen.  No matter how familiar or how enduring things of this world seem, the truth is that everything is just temporary and will one day be destroyed by fire.  So our job is to focus on the certainty of the end and get ready for it.

Both history and prophecy support the truth that God is in charge and He will decide when reality as we’ve come to know it will cease.

The upcoming Second Coming demands godly living NOW.

“On August 30, 2005 Coast Guard Lt. Iain McConnell was ordered to fly his H46 helicopter to New Orleans and to keep that machine flying around the clock for what would turn out to be a heroic rescue effort.

“None of his crew were prepared for what they were about to see. They were ahead of every news crew in the nation. The entire city of New Orleans was under water. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs and two cats.
“On the fourth mission, despite twelve different flights to New Orleans, he and his crew were able to save no one. None! They all refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the Coast Guard to bring them food and water.

“They were warned that this refusal to leave was extremely dangerous. The waters were not going to go away soon. Sadly, many of those people perished because of their refusal to be rescued.”
<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-rejection-79801?ref=TextIllustrationSerps on 7/7/17.>
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has mounted the greatest rescue effort of all time.  But He will not save anyone without their consent.  Giving our consent means giving ourselves to Him, accepting what God has revealed to us by means of WHOLESOME THINKING.

As Peter warns us scoffers will scoff.  We don’t need to be intimidated by them.  We don’t have to argue with or answer them. The proof of our faith is found in godly living.  It is up to us to speak the truth and live the truth and all the more so in these LAST DAYS.

Shakespeare, Jesus, and Lawyers (Part Two)

Please read Matthew 15:1-20 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare the following remarks.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

Legalism is an attempt to hide behind the law or manipulate its details to force your will on others.  There are some peculiar laws on the books around the country, so pick your hiding spot carefully.  Here are a few humorous examples.

In Huntington, West Virginia, firemen may not whistle or flirt at any woman passing a firehouse.

In the entire state of Georgia it is illegal to use profanity in front of a corpse lying in a funeral home or in a coroner’s office.

In Boston, Massachusetts, no one may take a bath without a prescription.  I wonder who polices that law?

In Norco, CA, all persons wishing to keep a rhinoceros as a pet must first obtain a $100 license.

This one is true too: in Wichita, Kansas, before proceeding through the intersection of Douglas and Broadway, a motorist is to get out of their vehicle and fire three shotgun rounds into the air.  I’m looking for a volunteer to try that one out!

Owners of flamingos in Juneau, Alaska, may not let their pet into barber shops.  How does anybody in Juneau GET a flamingo?

In San Francisco, California, it is illegal to pile horse manure more than six feet high on a street corner.  Based on what little I know about San Francisco, I’d guess politicians are allowed to stack it as high as they want.

I’m sure there is an interesting story behind all these laws, explaining how they got on the books.  But the point simply is this: man-made laws are vulnerable to misuse.  They are not the ultimate authority in the life of believers.  Our allegiance is primarily to the laws of love that were instituted in the Old Covenant and affirmed by Jesus in the New.

REVIEW from Part One

  1. The Picky (1+2).

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law (lawyers) were “picky” in the usual sense that they fussed over details, abused the Law to further their own ends and in the unusual sense that they were trying to pick a fight with Jesus.

  1. The Pig in a Poke (3-9).

As per the usual meaning of this expression, the Pharisees and lawyers were attempting to convince Jesus and everyone within earshot they were handling a serious problem.  Jesus exposed their hypocrisy instead of accepting their definition of “serious.”

NEW for Part Two

  1. Prodding the People (10+11).

Sometime in this brief conversation a CROWD had formed. What Jesus intended to be a private rebuke became a “teachable moment” when He turned to address the CROWD as well as the disciples and the religious leaders.

He used the religious professionals’ complaint about hand-washing to teach the people about true discipleship.  For our sake, here’s what the Law of Moses taught.

One, “defilement” was a condition of spiritual and moral impurity (aka “uncleanliness”).  The word literally meant “to make something common.”  That means that something that had previously been sacred (devoted exclusively to God; special), was now just “ordinary.”

Two, the Law penalized the unclean/ defiled sinner by putting the offender out of the temple and sometimes outside the community too.  In the most serious situation, the Law required the offender put out of LIFE.  (Jesus’ quote of Leviticus 21:17 in verse four is an example of the ultimate penalty.)

Three, there were detailed laws about how an unclean/defiled person could become clean again.

The Law made an abstract concept like “sin” concrete & costly by requiring an animal sacrifice to cleanse the guilty party.  This is one appeal of legalism; it’s easier to think concretely than abstractly.

In contrast, here’s what Jesus said: “Food eaten with unwashed hands does not make the eater a sinner.  Instead, the things that come out of the mouth (i.e., our words) are things that make us sinners.”

  1. The Parable (12-14).

The scene changes again between vs. 11+12.  Jesus and His disciples went into a private home where they could question Jesus.

We forget that the Jews of Jesus’ time had a begrudging respect for the Pharisees: they were seen as “super religious” in a culture where religion was still seen as a good thing.  Even so, people didn’t to follow their example: it was just too demanding.

This explains the deference of the disciples in verse twelve, where they asked, “Do you realize what you’re saying is making these guys mad?”  They were also curious about this new, more assertive attitude Jesus showed.  Otherwise, who cares?  After all, you can’t live your life worrying about all the opinions of all the people.  Making decisions to avoid offense is one of the worst bases for making decisions.

Jesus needed to relieve them of the assumption that these people were reliable spiritual guides.  That’s why His reply in vs. 13+14 is so unequivocal.  It is as if Jesus replied, “You think that was offensive?  Check THIS out!”  What followed was a two-part parable (as Peter identified it in verse fifteen).

The PARABLE promised that God will set things right.  In this world, hypocrites may be allowed to prosper, but sooner or later, God Himself will uproot them.  Two chapters earlier, Jesus gave an extended parable about a wheat field where that was later sown with weed seed.  He explained that the wheat represents the true children of God and the weeds the false and evil people who reject God.  Making a point very similar to v. 13, Jesus promised God Himself will separate the wheat from the weeds and make everything right.  As God did not write their TRADITION, anyone guided by it was NOT His planting.

Jesus commanded, “LEAVE THEM.”  He meant, “Don’t be fooled by their legalism.”  Those who followed their teaching were “the blind being lead by the blind.”  This is irony with a sharp point, folks.  These religious authorities would puff themselves up by putting others down, calling themselves “leaders of the blind.”  Jesus turns their egotism against them and says that they blinded themselves to the truth.

  1. Peter in a Pickle (15-20).

He was often the first to ask questions everyone wondered about but didn’t dare ask (as happened in verse fifteen).  Peter wondered how God would “uproot” them and/or how they would fall into a pit.

The problem with being the first to ask is that he bore the brunt of Jesus’ rebuke (16): “ARE YOU [also] STILL SO DULL?”  This sounds harsh, but this kind of language fit Jesus’ role as a rabbi: bringing rebuke/correction was part of their job.

But these statements contradict our watered-down, wimpy version of Jesus.  The Gentle Shepherd is just one side of His character.  We need to also see Jesus as a radical man who was dangerous, dragging His disciples into all kinds of troubling situations.

In vs. 17-19 Jesus drew an analogy from the obvious function of the human body in regard to eating.  Food and water are introduced to the body by the mouth, are used by the body, and then disposed of by the body.  It was ridiculous to assert this process resulted in an immoral state.

The things that DO have a moral effect are a person’s words and deeds.  For example, MURDER, ADULTERY, SEXUAL IMMORALITY, and THEFT are all sinful acts.  FALSE TESTIMONY and SLANDER are examples of sinful words.

These are the BAD FRUIT of which Jesus spoke in chapter seven.  They identify a “bad tree,” regardless of mere appearances may say.

Jesus’ teaching was that hand-washing is not a moral act.   Anyone who attempts to make their self look good by observing a legalism like hand-washing rituals is a hypocrite.  What makes and marks a person as godly or ungodly is what’s in their heart, not what’s under their fingernails.  Real faith changes us to the core; it does not settle on the skin and it does not allow evil and selfishness to be excused or exercised by something as petty as legalism.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

It would be a shame to let this opportunity go by without telling a lawyer joke or two.  Here’s some gleaned from the Reader’s Digest.

First, a bit of actual courtroom dialogue: Attorney: “Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?”
Witness: “All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.”

Next, a favorite diversion of ours: jury duty.  When an 88-year-old mother was called for jury duty, she had to submit to questioning by the opposing lawyers.

“Have you ever dealt with an attorney?” asked the plaintiff’s lawyer.

“Yes. I had an attorney write my living trust,” she responded.

“And how did that turn out?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Ask me when I’m dead.”

Finally, do you know who invented copper wire?  Two attorneys fighting over a penny.

<Retrieved from http://www.rd.com/jokes/lawyer/ on 6/29/17.>

We can laugh about these things and should.  Quality of life is diminished when we allow petty people to wind our crank.  Its safer to just laugh at them.

But we need to be deadly serious about legalism.  Legalism is a sin.  It is a disguise that hypocrites wear to mask their true identity.  It is a means to abuse others and/or benefit self.  It is false.  It is not of God.

Let us be done with legalism.  Let us take seriously the condemnation Jesus leveled at hypocrites and avoid being one.  Have this Scripture in mind and take an honest look in the mirror.  It begins there.